The Whimsical Land Art of Sand Bubbler Crabs

Designs created by a sand bubbler crab. (Photo: Kushch Dmitry/Shutterstock)

Humans aren't the only creatures capable of creating beautiful art. From elaborate wasps' nests to enormous termite mounds, there are plenty of artistically inclined species that easily rival the skills of the great masters.

In the mesmerizing time-lapse above, we are treated to a fascinating documentation of the artsy ways of sand bubbler crabs. These critters include 23 distinct species spread across the genera Scopimera and Dotilla, all of which fall under the umbrella of the Dotillidae family.

A sand bubbler crab along a beach in Toliara, Madagascar. (Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock)

The tiny crustaceans live out their lives along sandy beaches in Thailand, Australia and other Indo-Pacific countries, where they hunker down in their burrows during high tide and venture out to forage for food during low tides.

As they sift through the sand in search of tiny meiofauna — the minute animals that live in that environment — they accumulate pellets of debris that are methodically distributed around the radius of their burrow in uncanny designs.

Designs created by a sand bubbler crab. (Photo: Kushch Dmitry/Shutterstock)

But how are the crabs creating these little sand balls? The best way to understand it is by observing the process up close:

As David Attenborough explains, "the crabs work fast because they can only sieve when the sand is damp. Remarkably, they work the entire surface of the beach within just a couple hours of the tide retreating."

What's fascinating about the crabs' gorgeous sand artwork is that because it's washed away with each incoming tide, it's inherently ephemeral — making it all the more special to observe.